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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
THAT FACE
at Manhattan Theatre Club

MOMMY ISSUES
By SANDY MACDONALD

  Laila Robins and Christopher Abbott/ Ph: Joan Marcus

Boundary issues? For Martha, the pill-popping nightmare mother who Laila Robins renders so brilliantly in That Face – a dysfunctional family free-for-all by British prodigy Polly Stenham – even thinking in such terms would represent a radical step up.
 
Martha is all over her teenage son, Henry (Christopher Abbott), and he her. He has dropped out of school ostensibly to keep his addled mom from going off the deep end, but clearly he’s equally engaged by their verbal and physical gamesmanship.
 
Perhap all mothers are tempted to seduce their sons, at least on an emotional level, so as to keep them close. Rarely, though, are they so overt in the attempt. Like Martha’s openly despised daughter, Mia (Cristin Milioti) – who has issues of her own – we gaze on aghast as Martha and Henry act out their Oedipal danse macabre.
 
No wonder Henry is forced to flaunt his first extra-familial sexual foray, with a school chum of Mia’s (Betty Gilpin plays this top-girl dominatrix with panache). “You’re my child!” protests Martha, staking her claim by implanting an even more florid hickey on Henry’s neck. And they’re just getting started.
 
Stenham’s art – with its acknowledged debt to Williams and Albee – lies in exaggerating the emotional undercurrents that can beset the most normal of families. This particular clan hardly falls into that category, but it sure is entertaining to watch them disport. You get some idea of the kick that ancient Greek audiences got out of seeing their gods and forebears get into horrendous scrapes.
 
The play is deftly directed by Sarah Benson, and David Zinn’s scenic design achieves just the right blend of derelict elegance.
 

 


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